By Matt Spetalnick & Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama, seeking to sell the Iran nuclear deal to skeptical U.S. lawmakers & nervous allies, insisted on Wednesday the landmark agreement was the only alternative to a nuclear arms race & more war in the Middle East.
Obama made his case in a nationally televised news conference responding to critics at home & abroad after Iran & six world powers sealed an accord in Vienna on Tuesday to restrict Tehranâ€™s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
p> "Without a deal,â€ Obama said, â€œthere would be no limits to Iranâ€™s nuclear program & Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb … Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East.â€
Obama, who must still overcome a congressional hurdle to enact the accord, said that if the United States does not seize the opportunity, â€œfuture generations will judge us harshly.â€
The agreement is a triumph for Obama, who has made outreach to Americaâ€™s enemies a hallmark of his presidency, yet it is moreover seen as his biggest foreign policy gamble since taking office in 2009.
A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran in a January …
In his first public comment, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the deal should be scrutinized & legal procedures taken so the other side does not breach it.
In a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Khamenei – whose ultimate backing was critical to securing the agreement – said some of the powers involved in the negotiations "are not trustworthy."
Obama is now spearheading an intense White House push to counter Republican critics in Congress & reassure jittery allies such as Israel & Saudi Arabia.
He sent Vice President Joe Biden to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to corral fellow Democrats who might be wavering. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel next week to Israel & Saudi Arabia.
Critics say the deal contains loopholes, especially in inspection procedures that Iran could exploit, & will provide Tehran with an infusion of unfrozen assets to fund its proxies in sectarian conflicts from Syria to Iraq to Yemen.
Russian technicians work in the control room at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Iran in a Februa …
At Wednesday's news conference, Obama spoke in a lawyerly tone, at times mocking opponents of the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for offering no viable alternative. He dismissed critics' objections one by one & even solicited others from journalists.
Obama contended the deal was sound & that a "snap-back" mechanism in it to restore sanctions if Iran cheated would ensure Tehran faced real consequences.
But he acknowledged that although he hopes the deal will encourage Iran to rein in its aggressive conduct in the region, he was not betting on a change.
Obama said without a deal other countries in the Middle East would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear arms programs.
Technicians of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation in a control room supervise resumption of activ …
"There really are only two alternatives here," he said, citing diplomacy or war, an appeal to war-weary Americans to back a negotiated settlement with Iran.
Under the agreement, sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union & the United Nations will be lifted in return for Iran agreeing long-term curbs on a nuclear program that the West has suspected was aimed at creating a nuclear bomb. Iran says the program is peaceful.
Obama has run into a storm of accusations from Republican lawmakers & Israel that he gave away too much to Tehran.
Obama has vowed to veto any effort to block the deal & although he faces a tough challenge in the Republican-controlled Congress, he is expected to prevail.
He said he does not anticipate Republicans in Congress will rally around the pact yet said that if lawmakers vote based on the facts, the majority should approve it.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks approximately the recent Iran nuclear deal during a news conference at th …
The agreement, the biggest step toward rapprochement between Iran & the West since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is a legacy-defining achievement for Obama as well as his best hope for salvaging an otherwise shaky Middle East record.
Netanyahu cried foul, however, convinced the deal will do little to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions & leave Israel under greater threat.
His nuclear affairs minister said Israel was like the boy in the fairy tale who pointed out the emperor had no clothes, & emphasized Israel's right to unilateral self-defense.
â€œIsrael is like the little child that is pointing its finger & saying, 'the king is naked, this agreement is naked'," said Yuval Steinitz.
Obama said Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, had legitimate security concerns yet insisted that danger would be compounded if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon.
Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, told Reuters Washington would look at ways to deepen its security cooperation with Israel.
"We will … be looking forward, if the Israelis are interested & willing – they haven't said so yet – to discuss with them how we might further deepen & strengthen our security & intelligence cooperation," she said.
Congress will have 60 days to review the agreement. Republicans would need the support of dozens of Democrats to sustain a "resolution of disapproval" that could cripple a deal. But the odds are slim that they could muster enough support to overrule an Obama veto.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick & Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Lisa Lambert & Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri in Dubai & Luke Baker in Jerusalem; Editing by James Dalgleish & Ken Wills)